Sharing Early Literacy Learning Journeys

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Starting School Series, Part 4: Finishing touches and preparation for the first day

Excited. A new class of children arrive tomorrow morning. Is everything ready? Yes, mostly – a few finishing touches will do it. Well… more than a few!

If I had a checklist, it would look something like this:

• Welcome notice and list of children’s names on the door
• Morning message board just inside the door

Clip poster size paper on the morning message board
and write a welcome greeting for children and parents

• Alphabet chart beneath the whiteboard in the mat area
• Pocket chart on the whiteboard ledge

Alphabet chart beneath the whiteboard in the mat area:
low enough for children to touch and trace over the letters.

1 -2 Buckle my shoe rhyme in pocket chart –
low enough for children to manipulate the word cards within the pockets.

• Number cards beneath the calendar wall
• Months and day charts beneath the calendar wall
• Laptop linked to the data projector
• CD player at the mat area (for music and interactive stories)

Calendar wall in the mat area. 100 grid board swings out for easy viewing.
CD player and laptop are on the small table for easy access.

• Shelves for children’s backpacks & hats are wiped and clean
• Refrigerator is clean and ready for lunch boxes and drinks
• Class printer and four computers are ready for use
• Coloured textas, markers, scissors, clag, pipe cleaners and collage materials are in the art/collage trolley

Art/collage trolley is equipped and
accessible in the art area

• Activity areas are labelled: block area, maths area, computer area…
• A3 charts of class names are on the door and the whiteboard (for name recognition)
• Two A5 name cards are prepared for each child (to draw self on name card tomorrrow)
• A4 papers are prepared with child’s name in big print at the bottom (for the class book tomorrow)¹
• Journal covers are printed, ready to cover the children’s journals, tomorrow after school
• Containers of writing pencils, coloured wind-ups and crayons are on each table for children to share
• Construction materials (eg. duplo, lego, mobilo) are in their containers ready for use
• Drawing/writing papers are on a table with pencils, wind-ups and markers

¹(Read more about using names for the class book in  Teaching Strategies for Literacy in the Early Years ‘First Day Names and Portraits’ Pg. 34).

Papers ready for children’s free drawing and writing

• Puzzles, construction materials and maths materials are on the shelves
• Hands-on materials are on tables for children (and parents) to use in first 40-50 minutes tomorrow

 Hands-on materials: polyhedrons, plastic links, teddy bears, nuts/bolts, dinosaurs

• Large rhyme charts hang on wires near the mat area
• A variety of books are in the bookshelves for children to read/share
• Large cushions are in reading areas for children to sit on whilst reading
• Assorted soft toys are in reading areas for children to play with and read to
• Maraca, pens and textas are in small containers, strategically placed around the room for easy access

 Soft toy, Gruffalo is ready to go in the reading area.

The maraca is useful as a ‘signal’ to get children’s attention –
it’s a pleasant sound and saves my voice when
transitioning children from one activity to another.

The maraca is in a small container with textas and sits on the whiteboard/big book stand at the mat area – for easy access. Two other small containers of markers, pens, pencils and maracas are placed on the maths shelf and the art trolley, for use as needed.

Teacher information and school procedures

Notices are pinned on the display board near my table for quick reference:

  • specialists’ schedules
  • yard duty roster
  • teacher aides timetable
  • emergency procedures and exits
  • wet day procedures
  • draft timetable

Quiet Reflections

Whew! Today was fun–not a chore at all. I feel a joyful sense of satisfaction knowing that the room is ready. A draft timetable is also ready so I know all the things I’m going to do with the children tomorrow.

First, the children and parents will see the welcome notice on the door. Then, they’ll see a greeting and list of children’s names on the morning message board.

The room is bright, colourful and ready with an array of inviting activities for children: blocks, legos, books, puzzles, drawing, writing… to start at right away. Occasionally a child may be upset and teary—and parents stay longer until s/he settles—so it’s nice to know things are ready in case upsets occur.

Half a dozen books for ‘read-alouds’ are stacked beside my chair in the mat area: books about starting school, books with rhyming words, funny books, alphabet books, number books. The big book of ‘Where is the Green Sheep?’ is set on the big book stand for shared reading.

But for now… it’s time to go home!

Coming next: Starting School Series, Part 5: Reading and writing on the first day – morning session 



Back to school…for the last term

Holidays have a curious habit of flying by. It seems like only yesterday I was writing about loading my bags on the early morning shuttle to the airport.
In the blink of an eye, it’s back to school – October 3rd, the first day of the last term. Reality hits home. There’s an initial reluctance in starting work. I push aside fleeting thoughts of just one more week!  There’s no gradual transition, no time to ease in gently. The first child arrives and I’m into it.

Monday. Professional Development for teachers. We collaborate on aspects of reading, spelling and explicit teaching.

Tuesday. A significant milestone for the children, their parents and me – Year One students return for their last term. In just ten weeks they will finish and head into Christmas holidays, then Year Two in February,  2012.

8:15 AM. The first children trickle in. They come into my room early—it’s an important part of our day when children and parents have opportunities to interact and share informally—I call it a ‘staggered start’.  It’s even more important the first day of term to make sure the children have extra time to talk and share about events and experiences of their past two weeks. The children’s energy and enthusiasm is contagious, it renews me. This is the best way I know to make an effective transition from holiday to work mode. Cobwebs clear, gears click back into motion, the passion returns.

Bounding up the stairs, Terry calls from the doorway, “Good morning Mrs Swan.” He walks over and stops before me… as if to give me a hug. “Good morning Terry.  Hey, you look terrific with that new haircut. How were your holidays?” Words gush out excitedly as he recounts his stay in a nearby resort.

Striding in, Donny greets me with his big, wide grin. I compliment him on his sporty new haircut that suits him so well. He seems taller. Has he grown in the two weeks away?

Quietly entering the room, Zack whispers, “Good morning.” I comment on his new, bright-white and red running shoes – adding that I got new running shoes on the holidays too.

More children and parents come in and mill around, asking about holidays and chatting happily with all and sundry. It’s wonderful to see everyone again.

Several boys come in with new games and proceed to show their friends how to play Chess and Uno.

Rex teaches Clay to play chess

Henry teaches Terry to play Uno

Two crickets arrive. In a plastic container carried by Kerrie.

A shiny, colourful leaf appears. Misty found it on her walk to school. Adults and children admire nature’s contributions.

Misty brings in a shiny, colourful leaf

...and I bring in freshly-washed covers for the reading cushions!

What a thrill – children voluntarily writing out of school…

Annie walks in smiling, hands me two pages of writing on pretty, blue paper and says, “Good morning Mrs Swan. Yesterday at my nana’s, I wrote my journal.”

Esther walks in quietly, smiling and firmly gripping an exercise book in her hands. “This is my journal about my holidays,” she says happily.

Later, Annie and Esther read their journal entries to the class: family trips, outings and holidays. Other children chime in and discuss their holiday activities – camping, fishing, ice-skating, movies, swimming in resort and home pools, riding bikes, building sandcastles and going to Grandma’s.

As Esther reads her journal, Molly says, “It’s like the Diary of a Wombat, with the short sentences.”

Molly thinks Esther's journal sounds like the writing in 'Diary of a Wombat'.

Key words on the board. During our pre-writing talking time of  co-operative show and tell, some children request key words to be written on the board – new words they may need in their writing: camping, movies, water-slide, sandcastle, Granite Gorge, Port Douglas Resort, Kurrimine Beach, Cairns Central Shopping Centre, Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Visualising. Before moving to their writing I ask the children to visualise what they are going to write about and to put possible sentences in their heads. I remind them to think about adjectives they could use to describe objects, places or events and words to tell how they feel. Finally, I add Natalie Goldberg’s advice: Be specific! Not car, but cadillac. Not tree, but sycamore.   ‘It is much better to say “the geranium in the window” than “the flower in the window.” “Geranium”  – that one word gives us a much more specific picture… It immediately gives us the scene by the window—red petals, green circular leaves, all straining toward sunlight’ (Goldberg, 1986, p 77).

A few weeks later…
It’s great to be back. Children help each other with ideas, words, spelling. There’s quality writing from all. One of the children writes a seven page story in her journal. I realise how far their writing has come since starting the year in February and I can’t wait to see how far they can go by the end of the year.

We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo…

 Harry is the first to arrive. Then Jack and Rowena. Jack’s mum says he’s been awake since 5:30. “We can’t be late,” he says. ” The bus leaves at 9.”  More excited Year 1s come to the classroom as they arrive at school. They wear school uniforms, including closed shoes and hats.  Lunches and drinks in plastic bags are placed in the plastic tub according to the adult who will care for that group of five children on our class trip today. We are going to the Tropical Zoo.

This is part of our unit of work on Australian Animals. Individual ‘studies’ of a self-selected animal and a ‘What am I?’ writing task are well underway. Paintings of animal habitats are awaiting animals. Seeing live animals at the zoo is special. 

And… off we go on the bus! Past houses, shops and shopping centres. Past creeks, cane fields and paddocks of playful horses. We go over bridges, through roundabouts and on highways until we reach the zoo.

We leave the containers of lunches at the large undercover picnic area then head up the hill to the Bird Show.  A young zoo worker provides an informative and humorous commentary as we see the birds: a quiet lesser sooty owl, a beautiful Major Mitchell cockatoo, a black and red cockatoo, a sulpher-crested cockatoo, a cheeky magpie that puts a tissue paper into a bin, a barking owl and a serious white sea eagle – spectacular!
PS How long did it take a zoo worker to train the magpie to put paper into the bin? 
3 days? 3 months? 1 day? 50 minutes? 20 minutes? 1 hour? 4 hours?

A fascinating lesser sooty owl

The beautiful Major Mitchell cockatoo

Next, we go to the kangaroos and then to the crocodiles.  Unexpectedly, we see zoo workers moving a large crocodile. The crocodile’s snout is bound with rope and about ten strong handlers hold him. It looks like hard work… We move on to see crocodiles warming up in the sun and an occasional crocodile opening its mouth to cool down. Other crocs keep cool under water.

Is the crocodile opening its mouth to keep cool?

A kangaroo is nicely camouflaged

After lunch, the adults and small groups of children walk  through the zoo. We see three striped lemurs, a red panda, a well-fed dingo, a resting wombat, a pacing cassowary, numerous sleeping koalas, several long, sleek snakes, green tree frogs, American alligators, eastern water dragons, a blue-tongue lizard, a glorious iguana and dozens of colourul birds. We read the notices giving us information about the animals. We all learn lots!

Koalas can sleep 75% of the day

An eastern water dragon heads towards water

It is a wonderful walk… and slowly we head back to the bus for the return to school.
Tomorrow the children will talk, draw and write about the trip as we re-live the real-life experience.

What excursions does your class take out of school?

Book Week with a Book Parade

Last week in Australia, we celebrated Book Week. We read short-listed books and winning books from the Younger Readers and Early Childhood Books Categories. I know how we early years teachers (and parents) are always looking for good books for our children, so in this blog you’ll find photos and my descriptions of 3 books that my Year Ones particularly enjoyed. And for those of you who enjoy quizzes, there’s a skill testing question for you in the caption under a child’s drawing in the Book Parade section. Enjoy!

Book Week Books displayed in the Library

My class especially loved Look see, look at me, The Tall Man and Twelve Babies and Noni the pony.

Perfect for toddlers – and early readers!

Look see, look at me! is perfect as a read aloud for toddlers  – and ideal for early readers. I like to have any number of  ‘easy to read’ books in my Yr 1 classroom at the start of the year because they provide reading materials for beginning readers – without being ‘levelled books’.

'The Tall Man and the Twelve Babies'

The Tall Man and the Twelve Babies was appealing and funny. The children loved how the babies were all called Aliastair or Charlene. They laughed at the thought of the all the babies laughing together – and all crying together! They loved how the babies had mashed bananas for breakfast and mashed potatoes for tea. One girl commented that the cat was eating the mashed potato – so where was the 12th baby?

'noni the pony': an appealing book in rhyme

Noni the pony is rollicking and rhythmical with a simple storyline that was fun for the group. One boy liked the way the dog was similar in colour to the pony and blended in when Noni protected the dog and the cat. Others laughed at the cows watching Noni dance. “What is spooked?’ asked another – so a discussion of ‘scary’ words ensued.

On Wednesday morning we had our P-3 Book Parade:

Children dressed up as their favourite book characters. I was Little Red Riding Hood.

The witch from ‘Room on the Broom’ appeared

Who are the book characters in this girl's drawing? Place your answers in 'comments'.

A Book Worm cake was part of the celebrations too.

A 'Book Worm' cake was part of the celebrations too!

How did you celebrate Book Week?

Building bushland and crocodile habitats in a Year 1 classroom

A branch stands in a bucket and sticks, leaves and gumnuts litter the floor in the ‘bushland’ area of the classroom. A koala, kookaburra, ring-tailed possum and sugar glider sit and hang in the branches. Kangaroos are on the ‘ground’ along with assorted snakes, ants and insects. By the windows, a green tree frog sits on the rafters looking down at the hanging vines, sand, ‘mangroves’ and crocodiles who live in the ‘crocodile habitat’ below. The geographical areas and animals reflect our unit of work this term: Australian Animals.

A possum hangs from a branch

A glider hangs hangs on for dear life

Kangaroos look for grass amongst the leaves

The green tree frog looks for a damp area

Crocodile habitat – with turtles and frogs in the mix.

The children choose one animal to study. They write a ‘What am I?’ for a class big book – and they learn interesting facts about that  animal. For example, did you know that:

  • really hungry crocodiles will eat bats?
  • most kangaroos can only move both back legs together and not one at a time?
  • green ants can carry up to 20 times their weight?
  • wombats have backward-facing pouches so dirt does not get over the young as wombats dig?
  • koalas sleep about 75% of their time?
This koala is awake!
How are your units of work refelcted in your classroom?

Crocodylus johnstoni

Chloe’s mum came into school today carrying a dark, dark box.
And in that dark, dark box was a soft, white towel.
And in that soft, white towel was a soft, black towel.
And in that soft, black towel was a hard, white skull … of a crocodylus johnstoni.  A freshwater crocodile.

A crocodile head. "Look at the eye holes."

Crocodylus, what big eyes you have on the top of your head.
All the better to see you with (when I am largely submerged in the murky water).
Crocodylus, what big nostrils you have on the top of your head.
All the better to breathe with (as I remain still, like a log in the water). 

Crocodylus, what sharp teeth you have in that long, tapering snout.
All the better to grab you with and swallow you whole, my dear!

"Look at the sharp teeth and how they fit together."

There’s a crocodile in the next room too so I borrow it to show the children. It’s a young crocodylus johnstoni prepared by a taxidermist. We look closely and see the five toes on the front feet and the four webbed toes on the back feet. We observe two lines of spikes along its back that become one line of spikes along the tapering tail. Children comment on the browns and blacks of the hard scaly body and the ‘glassy’ appearance of the  eyes. “I feel like it’s watching me all the time,” said Thea.

"Look at the four toes on the back feet."

Later we move on to Internet information and detailed big books with wonderfully clear photographs. The children draw and label their crocodile pictures. Today, we learned lots about crocodylus johnstoni… and it was fun.

Crocodiles I have seen on my walks through Argentea and Cairns Tropical Zoo…

I am cold-blooded so I warm up by basking in the sun.

I like lounging in the water, too

Lastly, a video of crocodylus johnstoni…

Have you seen crocodiles in the wild? Or in a zoo?
What more can you share about freshwater crocodiles?

A tawny frogmouth, a blue-tongue lizard and a baby wallaby

What do these three creatures have in common?
They are a live native bird and two animals brought to school this week by Wildlife Carers in their ‘show and tell’ to our Year Ones – as part of our current unit of study about Australian Animals.

It’s Tuesday morning and we have four visiting speakers to talk about caring for animals:

  • two wildlife carers and the above Australian natives
  • a vet’s nurse and her Golden Retriever
  • a City Council worker and her big mascots, Mal the dog and Milo the cat
  • an RSPCA inspector

The children respond with excited, informed comments, superb drawings and quality, detailed writing.

It really is a blue tongue!
The ‘cute’ baby wallaby is a favourite with many children
The dog is another favourite
This ‘dog’ is special too!
What visiting speakers have you had in your classroom recently?

Masses of moths in the mango trees

“Have you seen the moths in the mango trees?” asks my colleague as she walks up the stairs.
“No. What moths?”
“Look out the window and you’ll see them.”
I look. I see. I grab my small camera and rush down the stairs.

Children, parents and teachers stand in awe of the hundreds of moths flying in and around the big mango trees. Unfortunately I cannot get good photos – the moths  fly fast and rest little. I swing by the library for books on moths. Our resident expert on local wildlife tells us they are Queensland day-flying moths and she downloads and prints pictures from

Queensland day-flying moth (photo papillon 1319)

Soon after the bell I take the children to the mango trees – as do many teachers in our school. The moths flutter and fly in and around the mango trees stopping only to drink the sweet nectar.

Day-flying moths in mango tree

We head back to the classroom all the while watching the moths. We talk. We write – shared writing is about the moths.

Shared writing after seeing the moths

We read books about moths and make a chart about differences between butterflies and moths – but we do not find this moth in the books. Back to Google… 

           How are butterflies and moths different?

       Butterflies                                                   Moths
*Usually fly in daytime                           *Usually fly at night
*Usually bright coloured wings              *Usually dull coloured wings
*Rest with wings above their bodies     *Rest with wings spread out flat
(from its back)
*Antenna may have a knob      *Antenna may be ‘feather-like’ or plain at the end
at the end
*Slender, hairless bodies                      *Fat abdomen and furry bodies

We realise that this moth is called the Day-flying moth for a very good reason!

Tell us about moths or butterflies in your area…
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